No proof required for belief in things you don’t understand

Published 4:04 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

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Earlier this month, you might have noticed that Friday the 13th was on the calendar.

For some people, this date may have been an inauspicious omen, prompting them to cancel any plans and stay in the relative safety of their homes. For others, it was simply another day to go about their regular business.

It really just depends on whether or not they’re superstitious.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word has a couple of definitions. Superstition is “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation” or “an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition” or “a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary.”

Perhaps to put it more simply: superstition is believing in something you might not fully understand, even if there’s no proof that your belief is true.

There’s no actual proof that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day more than any other day, but the myth persists anyway. Some have speculated the association goes all the way back to Jesus’s Last Supper, with Judas the traitor being the thirteenth person in attendance. And then Jesus’s crucifixion taking place on a Friday helped solidify the belief that the combination of that particular day and number might signify something terrible.

It doesn’t help either that the popular 1980s horror movie franchise “Friday the 13th” might have also encouraged people to associate bad stuff with this day too.

There are plenty of other common superstitions that people believe in too.

Breaking a mirror is supposed to give you seven years of bad luck. Opening an umbrella inside and walking under a ladder are two more things that are considered unlucky for people. Horseshoes are considered a symbol that brings good luck, especially if you have it with the open end facing up. Knocking on wood is supposed to bring good luck for whatever you’re wishing for.

Whenever I walk on a sidewalk, I remember a superstition I often heard as a kid: “step on a crack and you’ll fall and break your back.” Needless to say, I used to watch where I stepped when I was young!

And not all superstitions have to do with luck. I’ve always heard that when you sneeze, it means someone elsewhere is talking about you. And an itchy palm means you might be getting some money soon. (I wish this one were true!!)

Theater and sports are two areas that are rife with their own specific superstitions.

One of the most common theater superstitions is that you can’t say the name “Macbeth” in a theater. Instead, it’s referred to as Shakespeare’s “Scottish play.” Some say this is because the original actor who played the title character died tragically during the performance, forever cursing the show with bad luck.

Similarly, actors prefer you say “break a leg” instead of “good luck.” Why? Maybe they’re just being dramatic.

Athletes and sports fans are similarly enthusiastic about their superstitions. Have you ever watched your favorite team pull off an exciting come-from-behind buzzer beater win, and then decided that you should wear the same shirt you were wearing that day to the next game too?

Michael Jordan apparently used to wear his UNC shorts under his NBA shorts when he played at the professional level.

Major League Baseball player Steve Kline apparently never washed his baseball hats during the season, leaving them rather sweaty. I suppose he must have had a good career, but was it at the cost of the nose of anyone standing near him?

Hall-of-Famer hockey player Wayne Gretzky always had a certain routine before games which included drinking a diet Coke, a glass of ice water, a Gatorade, and then another diet Coke. (If that were me, I would have had to spend half of the game making a trip to the restroom.)

In addition to these few, there are countless other examples of strange and odd things athletes do in the hopes it’ll bring them good luck. Do their rituals help? If they win, then the answer is yes. If they lose, then the answer is still yes but maybe they just didn’t do it correctly that time.

I always think it’s fascinating how arbitrary each superstition is.

If a black cat crossing your path brings bad luck, what happens when it’s a cat of a different color? Will an orange tabby cat bring me good fortune and a random gift of citrus fruit? Will a gray cat summon storm clouds?

People say that throwing salt over your shoulder will dispel bad luck and bring good instead. Will pepper do the opposite? Or will any sort of seasoning do? Can I substitute the old garlic powder that’s sitting in my kitchen cabinet instead? Does this superstition actually do anything other than cause a mess?

Opening an umbrella indoors is a harbinger of bad luck. But what if you only open it a little bit? Just halfway? Just a smidge? Will you get varying degrees of bad luck? Will stepping outside and closing it again reverse your fortune?

Superstitions can be fun to believe sometimes, but there’s no proof they’re actually true, and plenty of them don’t make a lot of sense if you think about them too much.

Maybe the lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s 1972 hit “Superstition” said it best: “superstition ain’t the way.”

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.